The cruel truth Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002
If you’re an Internet junkie like I am, perhaps you’ve seen that saucy “Bill of No Rights” piece that’s been circulating as of late. It’s a no-holds-barred reality slap (supposedly penned by a Georgia state legislator) for those among us who feel entitled to something more than our own opinion.

It starts: “We, the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid any more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior and secure the blessings of debt-free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great-grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines ...”

These include:

  • You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV or any other form of wealth.

  • You do not have the right to never be offended.

  • You do not have the right to physically harm other people.

  • You do not have the right to a job.

Such truths certainly should be self-evident. Sadly, they don’t seem to be anymore. In fact, my favorite guideline is one that seems to be increasingly ignored or forgotten by the masses — and which businesses would do well to plaster in shocking pink letters across every product they sell. It reads: “You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful; do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m all for product safety, mind you, but things are getting out of hand out there. Take, for instance, a 1998 Ohio Supreme Court case in which a father — understandably distraught after losing two children in a house fire that was accidentally started by a third child playing with a lighter — successfully sued not only the manufacturer of the lighter but the store that sold it. There’s no justice in that. There’s only displaced anguish and guilt there. The father was simply looking for someone else to blame.

His fingerpointing didn’t change what happened to him or his family. Rather, it may have made it harder for him to learn from this experience. Did he learn to warn his one surviving daughter of the dangers of playing with fire? Did he learn to keep cigarette lighters and other potentially dangerous items away from her? Did he learn to teach that child what to do in case of fire? Or did he simply learn that others can be made to pay for your mistakes if you hire a good attorney?

The companies this man sued assumed he was a responsible adult and treated him as such. They made and sold a product that is safe when used with common sense. What he did with that product after its purchase is beyond their control. Whether that lighter was left laying around the house or whether the child found it in some seemingly secure location, the manufacturer and the store that sold it had no say in the matter.

Accidents happen. Sometimes they’re horrible, horrible accidents. How we react to those accidents is what counts. Do we fingerpoint? Or do we act like responsible adults and either own up to the consequences of our actions or accept the hand of fate?

It’s neither our duty nor our right to frantically search for someone else to blame when things go wrong. It’s our duty to do the right thing. And that’s not asking someone else to pay for a misfortune that’s purely our own.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is the editor of SBN Columbus.